Posted in 3 Stars, Book Review

REVIEW: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry


Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Formats Available: Kindle, Hardcover

In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison.

Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl—Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill. 

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year bust spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers—and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life. 

A Fierce and Subtle Poison beautifully blends magical realism with a page-turning mystery and a dark, starcrossed romance—all delivered in lush, urgent prose. 

MY RATING: 📚 📚 📚

Magical realism isn’t attempted nearly as often as it should be, so I was happy to learn of A Fierce and Subtle Poison and see that it was doing well.

I’m certainly not disappointed that I read this book. Ms. Mabry’s descriptions are exquisite. I could see, hear, smell, and taste everything happening around Lucas. I also applaud the way she wove Spanish and English together in a way that does not isolate readers who don’t know the language, but at the same time adds a layer of believability and depth for readers who do. Additionally, her use of Carribean legends and cultural structures made the events described in this book seem that much more real. I also really appreciated the hat tip to Borges, one of the most iconic Latin American magical realist writers.

There are a few reasons for the two-star deduction here, first of which is pacing. This novel should be the most exciting, page-turning thing I’ve read all year. I should have ripped through it in one day, maybe two, and mourned the last page’s too-soon arrival. And indeed, there were some parts of this novel that gripped me, compelled me to keep reading. There just weren’t enough of those moments. In fact, on the night before I finished, I dropped my phone (and Kindle app) down and asked aloud how on earth it was possible for a story this interesting could be so boring.

Lastly, while I did enjoy watching their story unfold, I couldn’t connect emotionally with any of the characters. Lucas, through whom we experience A Fierce and Subtle Poison, is incredibly self-absorbed. It seems the only time he expresses care or concern about others, he is really concerned only about how their absence or hurt will affect him. There were also some pretty serious questions that are left unanswered at the end.

All in all, this was an interesting, thought-provoking read. I hope Ms. Mabry delves into this world again. I’d love to know more about it. Even if she doesn’t, though, I’m definitely looking forward to this author’s next book.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.



Olivia Ard is the author of women's fiction trilogy The Bennett Series and Readers' Favorite 5-Star recipient 'Tis the Season. She is pursuing a second degree in sociology. She and her husband JD live in Central Alabama, where they await their miracle baby's arrival this November with joyful expectation.

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